SHOLA AMA has returned to knock the preening, faceless popsters from the charts and put the soul back in our hearts. Just don't call her an R&B queen.
Words: Mark Robertson
'I DON'T WANT TO BE AN R&B DIVA,’ declares Shola Ama with vigour. ‘This whole British R&B thing is a bit tacky.‘ This may seem like something of a U-turn for someone who has made their name as one of the UK‘s leading ladies in the genre. but a lot has changed in the two years since she had her fitting done for that crown. Many of the fashions in British mainstream music are inspired by underground clubbing; drum & bass. hip hop. speed garage and big beat being recent examples. The last
twelve months has seen the return of
R&B. Pop music buyers have embraced the syncopated rhythms.
20 THE “ST 2-716 Mar 2000
layered vocals and raw attitude of the R&B sound and the charts now seem to be heaving with soulful divas and geezers.
Trevor Nelson, the UK‘s R&B don. is now rated as one ()f the most influential figures in British dance music and at least half a dozen R&B clubs have sprouted across Scotland in the last six months alone. While all this was happening, Shola Ama was in the studio completing her second album In Return.
It was the unassuming soulful pop charm of “You Might Need Somebody‘ that catapulted the now twenty-year-old Ama into the public
'R&B is just a fad. It's a trend, and trends come and go.’
eye. The single went to number three in the charts and her debut album Much Love sold by the skipload and spawned two other hit singles, ‘You're The ()ne 1 Love’ and ‘Who‘s Loving My Baby‘. Her commercial successes were matched by her critical acclaim and the year culminated in a Brit Award and two MOBOs. Ama returns this year with a fresh clutch of tunes and a weighty live band to take on the road for her first tour since ‘98’s Rhythm Nation tour with D-lnlluence and Glamma Kid.
In Return sees Ama expand her cache of song writing collaborators. working with some of America‘s biggest producing talents including Babyface and Mary J Blige producer. Rodney Jerkins. However. she is quick to point out that she is not abandoning her roots. ‘I wouldn't say there were any real big changes. My writing has come on a lot more and I worked with some really talented producers.~
Cool to the point of nonchalance. Ama goes to great pains in highlighting that she was not overawed by writing with Jerkins and Babyface. ‘I spent a month recording out in Los Angeles and it changed my outlook to recording. The sun was shining and l was a lot happier. it made for a totally different vibe from some studio in London.‘
Ama is conscious of distancing herself from the current interest in British R&B. and with good reason it would seem. ‘British R&B has always existed.‘ she insists. ‘There have always been UK artists doing black music. but they weren't pushed to the forefront. You get a couple of artists who are brought to the fore and then the Americans come and kick the door down and the Brits are pushed out. I don’t like to think of it as UK R&B anyway. [just think of it as UK black music. because R&B is just a fad. It’s a trend. and trends come and go.‘
If Ama‘s predictions are correct and the R&B fad wanes. where might that leave her‘.’ ‘My songs are real soul music. so it can survive.‘ she states. Her faith in her talent is considerable and we‘re not about to argue.
Shola Ama plays at 92, Glasgow, Sun 5 Mar. Her new single, Imagine, is released by WEA, Mon 10 Apr.